All Blacks call on reinforcements after midfield injuries
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Uncapped teenager Reiko Ioane is among five players called up by the All Blacks ahead of Saturday's Rugby Championship clash with Australia as they grapple with a series of injuries in midfield and at hooker.
The 19-year-old Ioane, who can play at winger or center, will join the squad in Wellington along with fullback Damian McKenzie, center Seta Tamanivalu and hookers Liam Coltman and James Parsons.
New Zealand has lost a number of midfield players to injury this season and coach Steve Hansen says Ioane may be handed a test debut on Saturday.
Malakai Fekitoa and the uncapped Anton Lienert-Brown are the only fit centers in the current squad after injuries to Sonny Bill Williams, Charlie Ngatai, George Moala and Ryan Crotty.
Williams suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon while playing for the New Zealand sevens team at the Rio de Janiero Olympics, Ngatai is suffering from concussion, Moala was injured in training prior to last weekend's test against Australia in Sydney and Crotty suffered a head injury during that match.
Lienert-Brown, 22, was called up as Williams' replacement and didn't play in Sydney where Crotty and Fekitoa started in midfield. But he might be handed a start at inside center on Saturday while Fekitoa will remain at outside center.
The main question is how the All Blacks will organize their bench. Ioane's ability to cover wing and center means he might join the reserves.
"He had a very good Super Rugby season and he's someone that we see having a big career," Hansen said. "He's 19 but he's been to the Olympics. He's been on the sevens stage. He's done a lot of worldly things.
"But this environment will test him so we'll just have to monitor that and see how he copes with it."
New Zealand has also lost winger Waisake Naholo to a hamstring strain and hooker Nathan Harris, for the remainder of the season, to a knee injury.
Codie Taylor, who started at hooker in Sydney where the All Blacks won 42-8, played only a few minutes before suffering a head injury and was replaced by regular No. 1 hooker Dane Coles, who is still battling a rib injury.
Australia has also been hit by backline injuries, losing Matt Giteau with a broken ankle while Matt Toomua and Rob Horne were also injured in the Sydney test.